This is the twenty-second in a series of columns by State Rep. Sheilla Lampkin about historic sites in Monticello. Lampkin is active in historic preservation in Arkansas and has received several awards from the Arkansas Historical Preservation Association. She writes a regular historical column for several area publications.
Since we’ve covered the west side of South Main from the Square to Jackson Street, let’s go back to the square and look at the east side of South Main to Jackson Street. His area, too, has experienced a colorful history.
An 1886 plat map of Monticello shows that a dry goods store, a tobacco store, a millinery store, a sewing machine and gun store, a business involved in fence-making and an “imagery” business were located on that first block from the corner to the railroad tracks in that year. I would imagine that the imagery shop was a photography studio.
A later, but still early, business on the southeast corner of the Square was a wood frame dry goods store belonging to a Mr. Ellie (or Ely), a Russian immigrant of Jewish descent. Later that spot was occupied by Monticello Drug Store. This business was owned and operated by Ray McKinney and Cecil Turnage.
Sometime near the WWII years a bowling alley is also remembered as sitting in that area. After the war Woodrow Magness moved his shoe store from the middle of the first block to the corner building that later became Cockrell’s Shoes.
Moving along to the spaces most recently occupied by Keepsakes and Options, we come to the former location of the department store known as The Leader. This fine business was, in its’ heyday, Monticello’s version of Dillard’s. The last owners were Mr. and Mrs. Ralph Wells, but it was started by J. A. Baxter before World War I. Bill Edwards took it over after World War II. Several others have also owned the business during the years including the late Ervin McClain and the late Sturgis Saffold.
As stated earlier, Magness Shoes, owned by Woodrow Magness, was the business south of The Leader before it moved to the corner where Cockrell’s Shoes sits today. When we moved to Monticello in the 1960s, this area held a ladies shop, The Jacqueline Shop, a personal favorite of mine.
Next there was the fine Ballard’s Jewelry Store owned by the amiable and highly respected Floyd and Polly Ballard. Mrs. Lillian McKeown, beloved historian of the Rock Springs community, worked there for several years.
Wallick Music Company sat next to Ballard’s on the street. Many of you may remember when all the high school band instruments were purchased, leased or rented from Mr. Paul Wallick, father of the late physician Dr. Paul A. Wallick.
Prior to and during WW II many other businesses sat along this block. South of The Leader was a popular eatery, The Southern Café, owned by Mr. “Red” Jones. It had a lunch counter, a few tables and, I understand, some very pretty waitresses.
There were also a couple of “beauty parlors” there. Louise Quimby of Monticello recalls working at a salon in this area. Mrs. Quimby also worked in a salon out at the “POW” camp when it first opened as a WAC (Women’s Army Corps) camp before the Italian prisoners came in 1942-43.
James Ross Sr. once had his law offices at the end of the block. Various businesses occupied these spaces later on before the Clip Joint moved in; they included some gift shops and a party supply shop. Lawyers and other office businesses have since occupied most of the area.
After we cross the railroad tracks we come to a parking lot. In 1897, L. D. McQuiston & Company, Tinners and Plumbers, was established there. The business repaired and/or made some tin goods and guttering. I assume by the name that someone there did some plumbing work too. I believe an early livery business owned by Joe Lee Allen was also located in the area.
The next lot holds a vacant house that once belonged to the George Wells family. Mr. Wells was an excellent local carpenter. Before the Wells family built the home, the old Gaster Hotel sat in the same location. The “famed” picture of the Square in the 1890s was taken from atop the Gaster Hotel. The house has had several other owners and residents through the years.
The next building is a most unique structure. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the 1906 Gothic Revival building was originally built to serve as St. Mary’s Episcopal Church. Later the building became the studio/office of Victor Borchardt, a much renowned local painter and artist. Later still a television repair shop occupied the building. For several years now it has been the home of Drew County Abstract and Title Company.
Now let’s move to the corner where the Gibson and Keith Law Offices sit. There was once a large, two-story house there belonging to a Mr. and Mrs. Ed Ahrens. Mr. Ahrens operated the ice house on East McCloy. He is remembered as a big man who drove a heavily-laden horse drawn buggy around town. The Ahrens had a lovely young daughter named Mary. Mary was out with some friends one tragic night in 1924 when she was hit and killed by a train at the railroad tracks on South Main Street. As the story goes, there was no warning light – nor has there been one since. Rather than being sued, or having to erect a warning light, the railroad company agreed to either stop all trains there or to use a flagman. Though it was a terrible tragedy for the Ahrens, the results of the accident probably saved countless other lives.
Eventually the Ahrens left town and the house was later torn down and replaced with Ellis’ ESSO Service Station. After the service station was later removed, Jim Ross Jr. built an office building on the site. This building is now owned by and contains the law offices of Gibson and Keith.
We’ll stop here for this week. I do need to share some sad news with you. Last week I talked about “Whittington’s Grove” where the courthouse now stands and the Whittington family who once owned the Advance Monticellonian. Then Thursday I read that Mary Cordell Whittington Steele recently passed away in Fayetteville, AR. Mrs. Mary worked at the paper and we knew both her and her son, Harden Steele, briefly when we moved here. I thought she’d already gone on, but she hadn’t. She was 84, I believe. I remember her as a lovely, kind lady. I’m sure many of you remember her fondly too.